By Shim Jae-yun
Zhuge Liang (181-234), a renowned Chinese statesman and military strategist, is also known for an episode involving his confidant, talented general Ma Su, whom he ordered to be beheaded on charges of disobeying military orders. In the face of Ma's death, Zhuge allegedly sobbed in grief, which means he purportedly, yet reluctantly, put his close associate to death for the sake of strengthening military discipline.
This story, called "Weeping Ma Su" (泣斬馬謖), was contained in the Chinese ancient novel, "Romance of the Three Kingdoms." It underscores the need for any statesman to shy away from private connections in order to establish fairness through the proper implementation of rules so as to nurture public goals and justice.
President Yoon Suk-yeol should learn some lessons from this story. He is now suffering from nose-diving approval ratings due to a series of bungles involving a lack of fairness ― a value he has touted as his trademark slogan.
Yoon is now beleaguered by diverse, formidable challenges. Various surveys show his approval ratings continuously falling. A Realmeter poll released on Monday revealed Yoon's support rating was at 33.3 percent, with 63.3 percent disapproving of him, marking the first time negative appraisals have surpassed the 60-percent level.
Worse still, the percent of people who disapprove of Yoon has been conspicuously rising among older conservatives and even in his stronghold region, the southeastern Gyeongsang Provinces. Yoon's crisis will exacerbate unless he takes drastic, innovative steps and brings significant changes to his mindset and attitude toward state administration. A life-long prosecutor, Yoon garnered fame with his statement, "I would not work for a person," and seemed to stand strongly for "fairness and justice." He later became the chief prosecutor under the Moon Jae-in administration. Now President Yoon is the head of state.
Yet we are now witnessing miscellaneous, ominous signs in which Yoon has demonstrated the rapid evaporation of fairness and common sense, among others. What matters most are his failures in managing the personnel in his administration and his lack of intent to discern between public and private affairs, along with the scandals surrounding First Lady Kim Kun-hee.
The Moon administration suffered a fatal setback due to scandals involving former Justice Minister Cho Kuk, Moon's close associate. Many people turned their back on Moon, disgusted with his sympathizing with Cho despite the falsification of his daughter's academic achievements. Moon should have severed ties with Cho earlier in order to stand up for fairness.
Ironically enough, Yoon led the investigations into that case as the then prosecutor general. So he should have learned plenty of lessons from the case. But instead, things seem to have gotten worse. For starters, the presidential office allegedly hired the son of Yoon's long-time friend. First Lady Kim has triggered criticism for bringing her close associates with her on official domestic and overseas trips. As a first lady, she should abide by strict protocols of behavior and guidelines under the relevant laws. Despite these obvious problems, the presidential office has neither admitted to them nor vowed not to repeat them.
When criticized, Yoon has attempted to pass the blame to the previous administration for the nominations of some of its cabinet ministers. He told some doorstepping reporters, "Have you seen any better minister nominees in the former administration?" This way of acting and speaking is not suitable for a president. With his defiant, unrefined style, Yoon has failed to allay the concerns of people who continue to suffer from the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing economic hardship. Yoon should self-reflect on his ineffective narratives and inappropriate language.
Yoon urgently needs support from the ruling People Power Party (PPP) to tackle the ongoing quandaries. Yet the PPP has been embroiled in fierce infighting following the expulsion of its young leader Lee Jun-seok on his alleged receipt of sex services as bribery for political favors. As Lee's punishment was handed down before the investigation into Lee was completed, the party will face a dwindling base of support, further distancing it from young people in their 20s and 30s.
The recent discord is a result of a power struggle between Lee and the "Yoon Haekgwan (Yoon's core associates)," such as PPP floor leader Rep. Kweon Seong-dong, ahead of a party convention to select the new leader of the party, who will have power to nominate lawmakers for the general elections in 2024. Kweon himself is implicated in an abuse of power case over the hiring of a former campaign volunteer at the presidential office.
Yoon has no time to lose. He should first consolidate the PPP to muster its support behind him. Diverse, daunting challenges need his effective leadership, such as the worsening economic situation resulting from soaring consumer prices, high interest rates, the steady depreciation of the Korean won against the dollar and growing security concerns coupled with the intensifying rivalry between the United States and China.
Yoon should take a more appropriate attitude and develop narratives to persuade the people. Most of all, he should sternly differentiate between public and private matters and expel anyone who stands in the way of pursuing public goals. That is the key for him to recover fairness and his approval rating. It is also most essential for faltering Korea Inc., which is currently faced with serious challenges both at home and from abroad.
The author (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an editorial writer of The Korea Times.